American Football

Wednesday Walkthroughs: Which Lions player concerns you the most?


NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions aren’t a juggernaut, but as a rebuilding team on the way toward respectability, they’re still plenty dangerous. At 8-8, they’re in position to make the playoffs and depending how the Seahawks’ game goes earlier in the day, the Lions may find themselves in the same win-and-we’re-in situation as the Packers.

The lions also have plenty of ways to attack the Packers. Which one scares us the most? We asked our writers for their takes. Here’s what they had to say.

Rcon14: The offensive line

This is cheating, but if the Packers are going to properly use their cornerbacks as they did against Minnesota, I think they can reasonably handle the Lions passing game weapons. Despite playing quite well last week, it’s still very difficult to trust the Packers front when playing a legitimately good offensive line. The Lions gameplan is going to be to win up front, be able to run the ball well, and provide Jared Goff with plenty of time to find targets. The Packers pass rush has popped as of late, but there are a lot of bad offensive lines in there (beat up Minnesota, Los Angeles, Miami). Detroit will do them no such favors.

Tex: D’Andre Swift

Jamaal Williams is always a joy to watch, and he’s on the verge of his first 1,000-yard season as an NFL running back. He also leads the league with 15 rushing touchdowns, a tremendous accomplishment for the former Packer. However, he is also generally an inefficient running back. Williams ranks 26th out of 40 qualifying running backs in rushing DVOA, a number that is pretty well in line with his career average. His raw DVOA number is actually the lowest of his career at -3.1%, and imagine how much lower that would be if he weren’t a reliable goal-line option.

Much of Williams’ big counting numbers can be chalked up to a huge increase in workload. He’s averaging 4.0 yards per carry, once again right at his career average. But his attempts have skyrocketed, as he is on pace for an increase of more than 100 carries over his previous career high.

Instead, the running back that the Packers’ defense should be worried about is D’Andre Swift. While Williams has 994 yards on 246 carries, Swift has 517 yards – more than half of Williams’ total – on just 93 totes. That’s a 5.6 YPC average. Swift falls just outside the number of carries needed to qualify for the top DVOA leaderboard, but his DVOA of 18.2% would rank him 2nd in the NFL (behind only Aaron LaRue Jones). Swift’s receiving numbers are less only moderately effective, but his explosiveness and speed make him a far more dangerous runner for the Lions than Williams, and one who could well exploit some of the Packers’ weaknesses on defense.

Paul Noonan: DJ Chark

The Vikings have one great receiver. Adam Thielen, bless his heart, just doesn’t have it anymore, and TJ Hockenson, while a nice complementary piece, is just that. The Lions are trickier to deal with, especially for the Packer corners. The best receiver on the team is obviously Amon-Ra St. Brown. The underneath dynamo is a volume monster along the lines of Davante Adams. St. Brown is 9th in DYAR, feasting on a huge volume share, but only 17th in DVOA. His route tree typically doesn’t extend very far, and he only averages 11 yards per reception.

On the outside we find his polar opposite, the incredibly fast DJ Chark, averaging 18 yards per reception, and catching 56% of his passes. Chark missed most of the season with injuries, but since returning, he has had over 90 yards receiving in three of six games, and he’s been a huge efficiency driver for the offense, opening up St. Brown underneath. If he qualified, he would rank 7th in DVOA, and despite missing a large chunk of the season, he ranks 29th in DYAR, just behind Allen Lazard. Chark’s presence creates difficult decisions for Joe Barry in how to allocate Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas effectively. If he goes back into his conservative zone shell, which may be tempting, the Packers lose this game.

Jon Meerdink: Jameson Williams

I’ll echo everything said about Chark, but adding in that Jameson Williams is still largely an unknown. He’s finding his feet in the NFL, only catching one of his eight targets, but he still seems like a big play waiting to happen. His two actual touches so far (his lone catch and a single carry last week against the Bears) have gone for 41 and 40 yards, respectively. I don’t think he’ll be a primary part of the Lions’ attack, but like Chark, he can break things open for them if the Packers don’t account for him.

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